I was down in the Low Country on a working vacation. My partner and I had been invited to a New South/Woodstock kind of party. This was an annual affair, combining the best of Old South gentility with the finest of modern food and drink, not to mention the three excellent rock'n'roll bands, playing outdoors to several hundred madly happy fans. So it didn't last three days, big deal. It was pretty damn fine for a tiny Antebellum fishing village stuck in the middle of a swamp on a bypassed part of the Atlantic coast. These folks may live in the backwoods, but it is some of the most beautiful backwoods you will ever be lucky enough to see. Old money/new money and 21st Century ideas are a wonderful blend, dontcha know. And these people knew how to party. Big time.
The "working" part of the trip consisted of photographing the entire affair from start to finish as a gift to the hosts. To me, this was hardly work. I do this anyway, never leaving the house without at least one camera. It's what I do for a living. Much better than a real job.
We survived the forty-eight hours before the main event after sweating through the numerous pre-parties, where the most difficult job was trying to empty the glasses before the most generous host could refill them, then walking to the next party, only to repeat the chore of keeping the glasses empty, taking pictures all the while. I bless the folks who invented auto-focus.
(Sorry if I tend to stray from the point of the tale, but I cannot say enough about the legendary hospitality these great people offer to those in their midst. If you ever get the chance to be absorbed into the "real" neighborhood in a southern coastal village, you will see the tourist experience to be the hollow shell it really is. It helps to know a native or two. Remember to return the spirit: bring something to the table and it will be returned a hundredfold. They tolerate Yankees, too, as long as they do not act like it. Remember not to act as if you are better than them. You aren't. The "country" sounding person next to you might be a professor of physics at Duke or lecture on astronomy at Emory. Chances are that you don't.)
The day of the major throw-down began with massive hangovers and faces aching from two days of laughter. I sort of got appointed designated driver for our group of ten (one of the bands, their wives and another couple from our hometown). All this means is that I limited my intake to two beers and a shot of Jose's Finest early in the afternoon. From then on, I drank water and Cokes to fight the dehydration sure to come as a result of the oppressive heat and the track record of the previous days.
We loaded up the van and went to the scene of the crime. Having done this thing many times before, we were equipped and ready to move in: portable tables, sunshade, coolers, lawn chairs and assorted contraband. Because we were "with the band", we got primo parking on the lawn, maybe a hundred feet from the stage. It's a rough life.
In an hour or so the music started and the crowd moved in toward the stage. Many were as toasted as we were the night before. And on the mobs of Southern girls, it looked good. These were sensible women who knew enough to dress for the climate. Did I tell you just how steamy hot and humid it is in the Low Country in August? What clothing that was worn was tiny and thin. No one seemed to be showing too much, (after all, this was the South), but modesty and shyness were turned away at the gate.
The sounds were great and the crowd loved it. I began to shoot the musicians at first, watching them absorb the energy flowing up to the stage. You could see them soak the vibe completely and rock that much harder. The more the bands put out, the more frenetic the audience got.
Moving through the crowd in front of the stage, I started to photograph the dancers. About half of them knew why I was there and danced on as if I was invisible. Some struck poses and a very few picked up the pace, trying to guarantee a place in the scrapbook. It turns out that that is how to get left out. I like to shoot candid: if you are going to pose or clown around for the camera, it had better be good. I did get some super pictures though. Those kids were quite creative.
One of the dancers caught my eye. She was tallish, slender and attractive in an almost-model sort of way. She carried herself gracefully with a hint of self-consciousness. She seemed to be eighteen or nineteen, but carried herself with a more mature dignity than the other revelers in the field that night. She was wearing a black miniskirt, maybe ten inches from waist to hem, made from some thin leather looking material. The skirt was wrapped by a wide, loosely woven belt and worn extremely low on her narrow hips. On top she had a silk scarf, like an expensive bandana, tied around her chest like a beige triangle pointing downward. Not so thin as to be see-through, but not so thick as to conceal what was beneath the silk. What was beneath was more than enough to hold the scarf in place, yet not so large to need any support.
Her face was the clincher. Pretty in a classy girl-next-door way. Nothing spectacular, but you would catch yourself staring and then wonder why. It had to be the eyes. Pale blue, wide open, with a far away, melancholy sadness to them. Although she held a beer in her hand the whole time, I do not think she was as influenced, shall we say, as her companion. So, her look was not due to alcohol, but from her soul. Her friend had finished a few brews, but was in control, if a little less inhibited than local standards would normally allow. He was a slightly taller, gangly guy, quite pleasant appearance, even a good dancer. But there was a disconnect. He lacked her grace and dignity. She was out of his league but did not know it. He knew it and hoped she didn't. He believed himself to be the luckiest guy there. He might have been right. His luck, however, was going to change.
As they moved to the music, he stayed mostly behind her, spooning standing up. She watched the band and swayed to the rhythm with her arms in the air. Every minute or so, her hands would pull the scarf up as it began to slip down. It was hardly in danger of slipping all the way but she gave you the impression that she was afraid that it would reveal too much. When I took a few shots of her, she would adjust herself while looking straight at me, then go back to her dance.
Between the songs, I noticed that she had begun to tie and retie the belt around her waist, each time pulling the tiny skirt down as far as she could without exposing what the fabric barely concealed. If she had been wearing anything under the skirt, it would have shown by then. All I could see was bare skin.
And she would dance on, watching me watch her.